JOHANNESBURG - “We are the ones now that maybe can sneak in via the backdoor”.
With these words, and following an emphatic 3-1 win at home against Burkina Faso in crucial qualifier for next year’s World Cup, Bafana Bafana coach Stuart Baxter sees his charges as a side that has control over their own fate although they are still bottom of Group D. Senegal, who beat Cape Verde 2-0 later on Saturday, have taken over as group leaders and will face Bafana twice next month.
Baxter’s men scored a goal 48 seconds into their clash through lone striker and Man of the Match Percy Tau.
Themba Zwane and Sibusiso Vilakazi added two more before half-time, and Alain Traore tucked away a beautifully curled free kick in the 87th minute to give the visitors a consolation goal.
“We will take every chance,” Baxter said after the match.
And the Scotsman has to be optimistic. Bafana were essentially written off after they were surprisingly beaten by Cape Verde in their back-to-back qualifiers last month.
Fifa then ordered that their 2-1 win over Senegal in Polokwane over a year ago to be replayed due to "compelling evidence" showing the game had been fixed. That decision left Bafana with a single point from three matches.
But the case is not done and dusted just yet as referee Joseph Lamptey is appealing his lifetime ban from football through the Swiss courts and - depending on the outcome - there could still be more twists in Group D.
“If we can knock Senegal over here (November 10 in Polokwane) then we will take it to the wire. We will put pressure on everybody else. We are the ones now that maybe can sneak it through the back door,” said Baxter.
“They have the pressure on them and they don’t want to throw it away. I am going to use that with the players and tell them to take that last chance - be as focused as you were against Burkina Faso, make up for any losses and don’t think about it as a negative, but as a chance for you to be a hero.”
The coach will have to pick a different line-up again when Bafana face Senegal. Bongani Zungu was red carded after being involved in a brawl on Saturday.
Andile Jali also picked up his second yellow card and will have to serve a one-match ban, but Baxter could still select both players for the second game against Senegal, in Dakar on November 14.
“Even in this game we were missing a few key players - Dean Furman (suspended), Tower (Mulomowandau Mathoho, also suspended) and our captain Tyson (Thulani Hlatshwayo, who is injured) and Rama (Ramahlwe Mphahlele, also injured),” the coach explained.
“I’d like to think that the squad stands up for itself. It’s an old cliché that you can give someone else a chance. But I would like to think the squad, when we decided we are committed, that everybody commits to the same thing.”
Asked how he was managing a scenario in which Bafana players and staff have to celebrate such an emphatic win, though the team is still bottom of the group with two matches remaining, Baxter suggested it was fair to let everyone soak in the good performance.
“It was timely after some of the over-the-top reports in the last few weeks. But that is the game we are in,” he said. “I certainly didn’t mention we are bottom of the group and I didn’t say we have a long way to go.
"But we went into this game with a knife on our throats and played so well. We deserve praise rather than raising a warning flag. There will be plenty of time for that in the weeks to come.”